Photo recall: Long journey brings out the angry bird in JJ the takahe

By Poppy Wortman

Pleasing the newspaper photographer ruffled conservation boss' feathers.

Photo / NZ Herald, Photo research / Emma Land
Photo / NZ Herald, Photo research / Emma Land

After enduring a tiresome journey by launch, car, aeroplane and helicopter, JJ the takahe wasted no time establishing the pecking order at her new Tiritiri Matangi home.

Ranger Ray Walters chuckles as he remembers the bird hooking into his hand, saying he blamed the NZ Herald photographer.

"When you hold takahe you always hold them under the jaw so they can't bite you. The photographer had taken a number of photos of JJ, and I was halfway through putting her down when he said, 'Gee, that would be a great, straight-out face shot of the takahe, can you pick it up again?'

"Not thinking, I went to put my hand under its neck, and I passed in front of JJ's face. She took the opportunity and bit me. The photographer snapped the photo and said, 'That's the one I want!'."

JJ had just arrived from Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds in 1992, brought up to breed with a male takahe called Stormy.

Walter's wife Barbara, who ran the takahe programme on the island at the time, says the birds all had different personalities. "JJ was a lovely bird," she says. "She could stand up for herself when she had to, but she was very friendly."

The photo of her husband getting nipped is still hanging prominently on the shop wall on the island, she laughs, serving as a warning to visitors to watch out.

"We had it framed. When the guides are guiding schoolchildren, saying you must be careful around the birds because they can bite - it acts as proof."

When the photo was published in the paper, Walters says, he was bitten again. Well, chewed out by his boss, at least.

"I got a ring from the office in Auckland from the joker in charge of all the birds. He said, 'What the hell is that photo doing in the paper? We spend money training you jokers how to handle birds and the first thing you do is stick your hand in front of a takahe! You deserve to have been bitten."

But Walters says he does not blame JJ for being a bit stroppy.

"She was a good bird, she was a bit unhappy having been stuck in a small box all that time and then being taken out and handled. She got her own back."

- Herald on Sunday

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